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Europe and immigrant inclusion: from rhetoric to action

Article by By Professor Andrew Geddes and Jan Niessen

September 15, 2006

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Creating effective policies for including immigrants is vital if the EU is to meet its ambitious Lisbon Agenda targets on employment and competitiveness; and for reaping the wider benefits of socially cohesive and economically vibrant communities. It is clear that there is no shortage of good intentions. At the 1999 Tampere Summit meeting, EU leaders signed up to give non-EU citizens ‘rights comparable’ to those of EU citizens, and repeated their commitment to managing legal migration and integration at The Hague in 2004.

Yet according to new research published by British Council Brussels, the Foreign Policy Centre and Migration Policy Group, Europe’s current performance on immigrant integration is patchy. The European Civic Citizenship and Inclusion Index has developed a unique measure of EU practices in relation to their common commitments in five key areas of policy: labour market inclusion; long term residence, family reunion, naturalization and anti-discrimination. It finds the EU-15’s immigration practices to be ‘less favourable’ on average to immigrant inclusion across all five areas – as well as sharply divergent between individual countries. Given that the Member States have signed up to common commitments in this field, the gap between rhetoric and reality in their real-life performance is striking.

Interestingly, the Index also suggests that there are no major differences in policy between countries with long and short migration histories. Germany, home to over 7 million immigrants, in fact scores below the European average in all areas apart from Family Reunion. Clearly, all member states have a lot to learn and to share on best practices for including immigrants and increasing their social and economic participation. So how can Europe raise its game? First, EU Member States could do a lot more on employment – not least recognising foreign qualifications, improving access to training and making it easier for entrepreneurs to set up businesses. If Europe does decide that migration is the best medicine for its lacklustre economy, it must first ensure that effective inclusion policies are in place.

But labour market inclusion is not enough. Europe’s post-war immigration experience can be nicely summarised as – “We asked for workers, but got people instead.” It is obvious that immigrants cannot integrate into local communities as active members while basic human needs for family stability and personal security are not met. Legal rights such as long-term resident status and family reunion are crucial – yet European countries have not made either easy. Across Europe, right-wing groups are increasingly using the fear of social breakdown and the security card to argue against immigration. Strong civic citizenship and inclusion policies are the best defence against these (albeit unlikely) threats.

Ironically, Europe’s current citizenship policies may undermine the very values they are seeking to protect. Europe is committed to a ‘Common Space’ for Freedom, Justice and Security. But by excluding many citizens of non-EU member states – so-called ‘Third Country Nationals’ – the ‘Common Space’ can create an underclass of second-class citizens – who currently number the same as the combined populations of Ireland, Denmark and Finland. Hardly the haven of equality and openness Europe claims.

Perhaps more worrying still is the lack of data. Whilst Member States systematically collect data on every cow and chicken in the EU as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), migration is apparently too politically sensitive, and migrants too diverse, for comparable, transparent data to be collected. Until data is available to hold Member States’ to account for their migrant inclusion policies, their promises to manage migration sensibly and sensitively will lack credibility.

The latest wave of ‘immigration frenzy’ in European media and politics largely misses the point. The relevant questions are less to do with ‘who to let in’ or ‘who to keep out,’ but how effectively to manage migration, past, present and future. Europe must accept that inward migration is a fact of life, and move beyond outdated ‘Fortress Europe’ arguments. It must focus instead on how to ensure that immigration is beneficial, both for immigrants and society as a whole. How else can Europe make sure that migrants contribute to a dynamic economy and cohesive society?

There is no reason to despair. A rich menu of policies to improve the situation of immigrants in Europe already exists and has been agreed by Member States. They should now live up to these pledges. It is possible to reimagine and reorganise European societies in ways that respect traditions and histories while being open and inclusive.

834 words

By Professor Andrew Geddes, University of Sheffield, UK, and Jan Niessen, Director, Migration Policy Group, Brussels.

‘The European Civic Citizenship and Inclusion Index’ is published by British Council Brussels, Foreign Policy Centre and Migration Policy Group.

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